The Woodstock That Wasn’t


Woodstock 50 is officially cancelled. It was billed as a concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of the original Woodstock in 1969.

Woodstock ’69 was a peace and music hippie-fest held in mid-August during the summer of love on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, New York. An estimated 400,000 young people attended the 3-day event that featured 32 music acts.

The original 1969 Woodstock was fraught with problems, such as securing a venue, sound and lighting issues, and lining up performers. Some acts agreed to perform then backed out, while others were invited but refused to attend or had prior commitments. The biggest problem, however, was completely out of their control. The rainy weather.

The 25th and 30th anniversary Woodstock Festivals in 1994 and 1999 had their own issues. The tickets were oversubscribed and overpriced, the concerts were overcrowded, and the festivals were marred by crime.

There were high hopes for the 50th anniversary Woodstock Festival, which was to be held on the same weekend as the 1969 music festival. But after years of planning and hype, the festival was finally cancelled after months of problems that the organizers could not overcome.

Ironically, the same issues that plagued the previous Woodstock Festivals derailed this one. Organizers failed to obtain the necessary permits in New York, so the venue was moved to the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. Several other venues in New York were considered before organizers finally settled on the Maryland location.

Financial backers and organizers were at odds over how to resolve problems with the 50th anniversary festival. One of the biggest issues was lining up performers. Scheduling conflicts, existing tours, and studio recording sessions became a challenge in getting commitments from big name bands and performers.

Headliners included The Killers, Dead & Company, Imagine Dragons, Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, and Chance the Rapper. It was just as eclectic a mix of performers as the original Woodstock. In fact, some of those who performed at the 1969 Woodstock Festival were scheduled to perform at Woodstock 50, including John Fogery, David Crosby, and John Sebastian.

Another stumbling block was the price of the tickets, expected to cost a whopping $450 per person, compared to $18 for the 1969 Woodstock Festival. While organizers were hoping for 150,000 people to attend Woodstock 50, the Merriweather Post Pavilion holds only 32,000 people.

As recently as late July, the concert was still on. But behind the scenes, promoters and organizers were scrambling to save the doomed festival. Once bands and singers began cancelling, it started a domino effect.

Michael Lang, the 74-year-old co-founder of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Festival said, “We are saddened that a series of unforeseen setbacks has made it impossible to put on the Festival we imagined with the great line-up we had booked and the social engagement we were anticipating.”

But all is not lost. The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, site of the 1969 festival, will host concerts and events this weekend marking the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. But the celebration at Bethel, New York, will be but a whimper compared to the raucous 1969 Woodstock Festival that ended the Decade of Peace and Love of the ‘60s and ushered in the tumultuous Me Decade of the ‘70s.


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